The United States on Thursday asserted that Syria is slowing the dismantlement of its chemical arsenal by “bargaining” for unneeded security gear.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has demanded “armored jackets for shipping containers, electronic countermeasures and detectors for improvised explosive devices” to help transport its warfare chemicals to a coastal city for removal by foreign ships, said Robert Mikulak, Washington’s ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague.
However, such pleas “are without merit,” and could threaten an international effort to eliminate the Syrian government’s chemical-arms stockpile by an end-of-June deadline, the envoy told a gathering of the 41-nation OPCW Executive Council.
“It is essential that the Syrian government establish a plan that will give the international community confidence that movements will be made regularly” to send its warfare chemicals abroad for destruction, he said in prepared remarks to the OPCW governing body. The chemical-weapons watchdog agency is overseeing the disarmament operation, which began in the aftermath of an August nerve-gas strike allegedly responsible for more than 1,400 deaths, including women and children.
Removal of the weapons has proceeded slower than planned. Less than one-twentieth of the stocks had left the country as of Wednesday, leaving international authorities far from their initial goal of wrapping up removal by Feb. 5.
For months, Western nations reportedly have been resisting requests from Syria’s government for chemical-security equipment that it might turn against rebels in the country’s bloody civil war. Mikulak said Syria’s chemical-warfare assets “have often been moved during the ongoing conflict without such equipment, demonstrating that Syria has been able to ensure sufficient protection to date with its current capabilities, and without this additional ‘wish list’ of equipment.”
The U.S. official noted that the disarmament operation’s international overseers now agree that Damascus is adequately equipped to safely transport the chemicals.
Damascus, though, last week said it is committed to sending its chemical stockpile overseas “as soon as possible,” according to OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü.
A senior Assad envoy said Damascus is “making intensive efforts to prepare for, and accelerate, the transportation of chemicals, and that it is currently working on a tentative schedule for completing the transportation of chemicals,” Üzümcü said in a statement to his agency’s governing board. The top OPCW official provided no further details.
Noting a separate concern on Thursday, Mikulak said Assad’s government wants to eliminate several subterranean and above-ground chemical-weapon facilities through methods that fall short of full destruction.
Steps such as “welding doors shut and constructing interior obstacles … are readily reversible within days and clearly do not meet the requirement of ‘physically destroyed’ as provided for by the [Chemical Weapons] Convention,” he said.
He urged the OPCW governing board to “reject Syria’s proposal to ‘inactivate’ its hangar and tunnel [chemical-weapon production facilities], rather than physically destroying them as the CWC requires.”
What We're Following See More »
The House voted down the otherwise uncontroversial Energy and Water appropriations bill Thursday after Democrats succeeded in attaching an amendment affirming LGBT job discrimination protections for military contractors. More than 40 Republicans supported the amendment, but when it came to vote on the bill, 130 Republicans joined all but six Democrats to sink the bill. Speaker Paul Ryan said Democrats voting against the bill after securing the amendment shows their intention was to scuttle the process. Democrats, however, blamed other so-called poison-pill amendments for their votes against the bill. Nonetheless, Ryan said he intends to continue the appropriations process.
"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.
"Airport screening delays have caused more than 70,000 American Airlines customers and 40,000 checked bags to miss their flights this year, an executive for the airline told a U.S. congressional subcommittee on Thursday. A shortage of staff and a surge in air travelers have created a nightmare scenario for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), with airport wait times in places like Chicago stretching beyond two hours."
"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."